What Makes You Stand Out? (Hint: Being Different is Good)

stand outIf you want to stand out, and move forward in your career, you must know what you bring to the workforce. Here’s a hint… being different is a good thing.

Don’t you hate it when people ask “what you want to be when you grow up?” and you don’t know? Well, don’t worry about it. Focus on your strengths, values, and passions ‒ and what makes you stand out ‒ and then find that job that aligns best.

Let me introduce you to my three brothers ‒ and why being different is so important.

All four of us grew up in the same house, with the same parents. We all went to the same high school. We even look similar ‒ you can definitely tell we are brothers. All four of us could work doing the same job for the same company, but we would do it in different ways. The distinction would be in our individual talents.

If we had all started working at a bank (like our father), I am guessing that we would have found our own niche in that business. I’m sure we would have gravitated to jobs that utilized each of our skills, talents, and interests:

  • My brother Steve is a great business person who can see how “numbers” can be used to create an end result; he would be the loan officer (he actually did this)
  • My brother Ken is extremely creative and can envision things in 3-D; he would gravitate to marketing (he is a furniture designer)
  • My brother Mark is compassionate and cares about people deeply; he would most likely move to human resources (he is a Catholic priest)
  • I am the educator; I would have done the employee training and professional development (I do trainings for career practitioners/coaches)

Knowing what your skills, traits, and passions are ‒ and then being able to articulate them in your elevator pitch, resume, cover letter, and LinkedIn profile ‒ is so important. You then use what you know about yourself to guide your career development. In the end, don’t take your skills and traits for granted. They may seem minor to you because you are so natural at them, but you want to be able to describe them to others.

So how do you identify your different skills and talents? Here are three ways you can make sure you stand out…

1. Think About Your Accomplishments

What have you done so far in your life? What are you most proud of?

This does not have to be work related (granted, it’s better if it is). And it does not have to something big. For some people I worked with, it was a fundraiser they did in high school. For others, it was a complex project that required pulling lots of people together to get it done. But, for me, it is my ability to do presentations. (The first one I did was in 11th grade. I was voted by my classmates to teach a chemistry lesson. I wasn’t very good in chemistry, but they thought it would be funny to have me teach it. Turns out, I did a great job explaining that lesson the following week.)

Whatever your number one accomplishment is, write it down using the S.A.R. model:

  • S – Situation | Describe the situation or the event so that others would understand what you were doing.
  • A – Action | List all the ACTION steps you did to make it happen. Break it into small parts and really think about the skills required to complete the task. (For example, one of my action steps when teaching the chemistry lesson was to read the upcoming chapter a number of times and highlighting key parts. Another would be listing the various components down on 3 x 5 cards so I could present the information.)
  • R – Results | Describe the results of this accomplishment. What impact did it, and you, have? Along the way, did you learn something you’d like to change next time?

Your skills, talents, and passions will most likely be found within the SAR model you’ve created. Next, repeat this process for three to five other accomplishments ‒ professional and personal. Then, identify similarities between them for skills used, passions displayed, or people served. (For me it was the satisfaction I found when I took a complex topic ‒ chemistry ‒ and actually taught people to understand the concept. I wished I’d had a career coach then before I choose forestry as my major in college!)

2. Understand the Importance of Self Reflection

Simply put, self-reflection is critical in this process. Start by asking yourself these questions and answering them as completely and honestly as you can:

  • What makes you a standout or unique in the workplace?
  • What are your top three to five skills, strengths, and talents at work?
  • How are you engaged? What are you excited or passionate about? (Think about the times you are in “flow” at work and lost track of time.)
  • What do you see as the patterns of your life? What themes that keep coming back?

And then take the time to summarize your top skills, traits, values, and passions in a short list. Think about this list and expand it to a paragraph form.

3. Ask Your Inner Circle for Assistance

Another way to identify your top skills and traits is to ask people. Now that you have your skills in written form, practice telling people your skill set. Then ask their advice on what jobs would benefit from your skills.

Specifically, ask ten to twenty people who know you well ‒ each from different perspectives (high school / college friends, people you worked with, supervisors, relatives, etc.) ‒ what they see as your top skills and traits.

For example, to prepare for this blog I identified five people close to me who know me very well. I asked them to identify my top 3 skills and what makes me unique in the workplace. Many of them said I was knowledgeable about my field, very approachable, friendly and genuine, and that I relate to a variety of people. They saw me as a great presenter or communicator with a positive attitude. They also said I was someone who gladly shares knowledge and is passionate about the career field.

From the folks who got back to me, and from my own vision of myself, here’s what I came up with:

One of my greatest strengths is the ability to engage people and take big ideas and make them practical. (It’s probably the tradesmen on my mothers side that have given me this practical approach. Her family consisted of masons, electricians, cabinet makers, and carpenters.)

I have built my business on the principle that I “want to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people.” I decided long ago that I love career counseling and coaching but because I could only meet one student / client at a time, I could affect more lives by offering training to career counselors and coaches.

As you go through this process, remember that today is not the day to be humble. Identify your skills, strengths, passions, and values – and then articulate them to others. You are not bragging…you’re just describing what you can do best. So say it out loud.

And once you get good at telling people what makes you different, and how you stand out? Then be open to discovering new opportunities when the people you talk to say…

“Hey, I know a great job for you!”


Jim Peacock is the Principal at Peak-Careers Consulting and writes a monthly newsletter for career practitioners. Peak-Careers offers discussion-based online seminars for career practitioners focused on meeting continuing education needs for CCSP, GCDF and BCC certified professionals as well as workshops for career practitioners and individual career coaching. Sign up here to receive his Top 10 Tips When Working with an Undecided Person. You can also receive the career practitioners newsletter which includes a variety of career topics, industry news, interesting events, and more.

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